It was during a recent holiday to the Maltese Islands that Charlie Stoker, owner of specialist recruitment agency H-Seventeen, recognised the potential of extending his finely tuned service to Malta.
H-Seventeen, which sources some of the best talent in the industry for some of the biggest names in the UK, has been established for 14 years, though the name may be new to the local market.
“We’ve done a lot of recruitment in the UK and other countries, but never Malta, so after visiting, I did the research and understood that there is a huge skills shortage. I felt that this could be utilised, because we have a lot of candidates coming to us looking for jobs that are not necessarily in the UK,” he explains, noting, “we’ve got candidates in the UK who are looking for technology roles amongst others which marry well with some of the big industries, like gaming, in Malta.”
Delving into the roots of his company, Charlie recalls how he first got involved in recruitment. After graduating, he moved to Leeds in search of a job, owing to its dynamic economy and high quality businesses. “I moved there with no real understanding of where I wanted to take my career. I’d done business studies, which is more of a general degree, and specialised in entrepreneurship,” he maintains.
After a brief stint at a law company which, he admits, “wasn’t the best fit”, Charlie recognised what it is he liked best, and found a line where he could apply it. “I very much enjoy relationship-building, speaking to people and understanding their business needs. When I first moved, I went around a number of recruitment agencies, and felt like it was a career that would make sense for me,” he explains. Taking a job as a trainee recruitment consultant, he progressed quickly, finding himself working alongside the agency’s directors within 12 months.
“The fast-paced nature of the business, coupled with the fact that you’re speaking to people all day long to understand how their businesses work really appealed to me, and ticked all the boxes,” he smiles. Having found his calling, Charlie worked with the company until late 2008, when the financial crisis began to take its toll. “I made the decision to leave, and about six months after, the company ended up going into liquidation,” he reflects.
By that point however, he had learned a lot about recruitment, and, equipped with an understanding of what companies needed – as well as the frustration they felt when recruiting consultants over-promised and under-delivered – Charlie decided to go it alone.
“I set up H-Seventeen in January 2009, and I remember a lot of people around me at the time said I was mad to do this while we were going through one of the biggest recessions since the 1930s, but I was determined to offer this service. I started it, literally, from the corner of my lounge and built it from there. It was tough at the beginning, but eventually it grew, and I began to take on support staff, administrators and recruiters,” he smiles, looking back on his journey.
The core reason behind setting up his own agency was to provide a better service to clients than they were receiving, and to utilise his understanding of the sector on sourcing good quality candidates. “This has always remained the ethos of the business – going that extra step and really understanding what our clients are looking for, as well as the culture of the business and their skill requirements, before going to market and utilising that in order to know where to find the right candidates,” Charlie says, adding that, “as a recruiter, you’re the middle person between companies and candidates, so we work hard to embed ourselves in the companies we work with – whenever we work with new clients, we have a full debrief and process through which we can really understand what they need.”
And while H-Seventeen has grown a lot since its early days, Charlie is adamant that he is still personally involved with all their clients, utilising his experience and skillset as a recruiter, whether it’s placing candidates in the UK or another country.
“It’s a candidate-led market, so unless you have some good quality candidates that you can utilise, that we’ve really built up over the years, it’s hard. Our most recent placement in Malta, for example, was for the role of a data scientist – with such a role, you’re not just going to go out in the open market and find a data scientist, so we utilise our network and relationship-building skills to find that person.”
Indeed, one of H-Seventeen’s strengths is the ‘people skills’ required to match people to jobs. Delving into their recruitment process, Charlie explains, “unless you thoroughly understand what a company is looking for, you’ll never be able to find the right people. Our 38-step recruitment process utilises a cutting-edge applicant tracking system coupled with a full market strategy to do this. And it’s not just about finding the right candidate for that company, but also about managing the process from start to finish – building that relationship with both parties, making sure that everything is transparent, and then managing the process all the way through to the job offer, acceptance, and in the case of jobs in Malta and other countries outside of the UK, the relocation.”
As a UK-based recruiter sourcing candidates from the UK to work in Malta-based companies, Charlie notes that it is the experience amassed over the years, within a country with some 32 million people in the workforce, that have enabled the team at H-Seventeen to develop a number of key recruitment strategies, which they are now able to apply to the Maltese job market, utilising their presence within the UK in order to find the candidates they require.
“It’s very different to be speaking to candidates about the opportunity to relocate and work in a country like Malta – it’s a USP in itself,” he maintains, referencing some of the island’s inherent benefits, like the fact that it’s steeped in history, benefits from a good work-life balance and culture. He also highlights Malta’s Key Employee Initiative, which provides a fast-track work permit for highly specialised Third-Country Nationals who are employed in Malta. The scheme, Charlie explains, enables work permits to be issued to key prospective employees in a very short space of time.
In fact, growing H-Seventeen’s profile in Malta features highly in Charlie’s plans moving forward, as he looks forward to building client relationships within the local market and developing this side of the business. Finally, another key focus for 2023 is an emphasis on developing their technology further to continue to serve clients in the UK and beyond.
“We are planning to invest further in AI technologies, and look at areas that we can invest in that will help improve the service that we can offer, and always continue to build on the ethos of embedding ourselves with our clients to enable us to find the right candidates for them,” he smiles.
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